Unsung Bowyer gets pole in first Chase race

Updated: September 14, 2007, 8:33 PM ET
Associated Press

LOUDON, N.H. -- Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. have been under the radar all season, never mistaken for one of NASCAR's superstars.

But as first-time participants in the Chase for the Nextel Cup championship, both have an opportunity to improve their status. Bowyer won the pole for Sunday's Chase-opening race at New Hampshire International Speedway, while Treux qualified second.

"It's my time to show what we've got," Bowyer said Friday. "If I can step up my game and run for a championship, I think it moves you into the spotlight, into that elite group of drivers."

Bowyer and Truex are the new guys in the 12-man Chase field, and neither is listed among the favorites. They are hardly mentioned as long shots, and Las Vegas oddsmakers put Truex's title chances at 25-to-1, while Bowyer goes off at 30-to-1.

With just one win between them, the two are largely unknown and often overshadowed by their successful teammates.

Despite two Busch Series titles, Truex is the quiet companion to Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR's most popular driver. He was better on the track this season, and his first career victory -- at Dover in June -- pushed him into Chase contention.

He never faltered, but got little attention for racking up 10 top-10 finishes. Instead, the focus was on Earnhardt's impending departure from DEI, his rash of broken motors and his unsuccessful bid to make the Chase.

Earnhardt said his buddy has emerged as the future of DEI, but his accomplishment has been unfairly overlooked.

"He went out there and won at Dover and sort of stepped up to the plate and became that guy," Earnhardt said. "I think that he wants to be that guy ... he's raced underneath me for a couple years now and he answers all the questions about Dale Jr. and this, that and the other and he does it with patience.

"I would have a hard time putting up with it all the time. I think it's something that he's really looking forward to, really getting out from behind that being at the forefront of the company."

Truex is the son of a racer, and had two choices growing up in New Jersey. He could join the family seafood company business or pursue a career in racing. After trying both -- he worked on his father's cars and served as a deckhand for Sea Watch Int. -- he knew exactly which way he wanted to go.

"He found out racing was a lot more fun," Martin Truex Sr. said.

So Truex started in modifieds on the short tracks near his home, moved into the Busch East Series and won five races from 2000 to 2003 to earn a ride with DEI.

His father said he knew what he was getting into when he signed up to be teammates with Earnhardt, but is capable of replacing him when Junior leaves for Hendrick Motorsports at the end of the season.

"Martin has always been the one to sit back and do his job," Truex Sr. said. "He was the No. 2 driver here, he recognized that coming in. Now he's the No. 1 driver, and he'll step up."

Bowyer is still finding his spot at Richard Childress Racing, where he's surrounded by popular veteran Jeff Burton and cantankerous Kevin Harvick. His teammates have such strong personalities, Bowyer can often hide between them.

"I am probably the ground wire that keeps them two together," Bowyer said. "You've got the politician, the senator, and then you've got the wild one that you never know what's going to happen. I think I am kind of the middle man."

He's been a perfect fit at RCR, where he graduated to after dominating regional series.

Bowyer won 18 races in 40 modified starts in Kansas in 2001, and moved into the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series Midwest the next season. He won the championship and earned some ARCA starts, where he caught Childress' eye after leading 47 laps and finishing second in his debut at Nashville.

Childress called him shortly after, and Bowyer thought he was the victim of a practical joke when the car owner's assistant got him on the phone.

"I'm a practical joker and I like playing jokes on people, and I just thought it was somebody playing a joke on me," Bowyer said. "I just about hung up, but she held me on there long enough and finally she put Richard on and I recognized his voice right away."

He was in the Nextel Cup Series last season, and he racked up 12 top-10s while finishing 17th in the final standings. But both Burton and Harvick made the Chase, and the pressure was on for Bowyer to join his teammates in the championship hunt.

Bowyer delivered, even though he's the only Chase driver yet to score a win. In fact, he's only got six top-fives for his career, and has never finished higher than third.

But Burton said Bowyer will be a threat for the title.

"Our company has expectations on him," Burton said. "Anybody who doesn't think that team is a dangerous team has their head covered in the sand."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press